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Discord at City Hall Noted in Consultant Reports, Emails

By Bob Conrad

Downtown ArchA report by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) discussed at last week’s Reno City Council meeting noted, from the group’s April visit to Reno, the discord at City Hall that gradually came to light this year.

The Institute indicated that it “learned executive-level staff routinely and directly participates in daily operations, which represents an organizational or cultural breakdown. Such a practice is unsustainable and inhibits executive decision makers from focusing on big ideas for the city.

“To make major decisions, the city manager and his executive-level staff need to function at a policy, not operational level.”

The ULI report drew an email from Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus on to the Institute’s Tom Murphy, asking to reconsider some of the statements made in the report prior to last week’s meeting.

Jenny Brekhus

Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus

Brekhus wrote:

Your panel in Reno last spring marked the onset of a difficult period for our organization and, because I have the most contested race (I like to think because I pose a forward thinking vision of Reno’s future that has ruffled some status quo feathers), for me as an elected official. As you can see, my opponent has used your comments as fodder. Coincidentally, we have your report on our agenda Wednesday morning.

“At the time, I believed that our City Manager, who had the most access to (ULI) panelists, may have unduly biased the panel against the Council and led you to assert that there is ‘micromanagement.’ While he may not have pushed this theme directly, it may be a narrative that he relayed to others. I believe that he knew his job was at risk because of unsatisfactory job performance and used the panel to point the blame at the Council.

“In July, after receiving a 1 year contract extension from the Council, 3 women made claims of sexual harassment against Mr. Clinger and he resigned under duress. While the claims are still under investigation, there is substantial evidence that Mr. Clinger’s management style fostered a highly disharmonious and unprofessional work environment among the City’s senior staff.”

ULI’s Murphy disputed Brekhus’ characterization of what happened with the ULI panel.

“The panel’s recommendations came from the panelists’ personal and past experiences, and from interviews of over 80 stakeholders within Reno,” Murphy replied. “The recommendations were not solely influenced by the City Manager as you have portrayed.”

The theme of discord at City Hall had also been confirmed by consultants Olive Grove, which had been retained “to assess and identify areas where the Mayor and City Councilmembers can enhance their working partnership with the City Council and City Manager, as well as the City Manager’s executive staff.”

Olive Grove noted in July that “direct communication with staff, as well as ongoing staff challenges with implementation, have led to uneven communications between the City Council and the City Manager.”

It also said that the Nevada open meeting law prohibits discussion outside of meetings, “which limits the ability of the Council to have non-public meetings to understand perspectives on a given issue prior to a Council meeting. This leads to communication and decision-making challenges during meetings.”

Those comments were submitted to councilmembers prior to the widely publicized resignation of City Manager Andrew Clinger.

Allegations against Clinger are still being investigated, even though City Attorney Karl Hall said the investigation would be completed by mid-October. The RGJ reported that Clinger’s complainants won’t be interviewed by the investigator.

“(The complainant’s attorney) put conditions on the interview that aren’t acceptable,” Hall said, according to the RGJ.

Friction between council and city staff appears ongoing, such as at last week’s meeting when the mayor and councilmembers expressed disappointment over a financial audit of Waste Management, which councilmembers said did not address issues they requested be examined.

Olive Grove said that recession effects are still lingering downtown and that “staff are overwhelmed and struggle with prioritization, which diminishes the Council’s trust in staff.”

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